Fragrance is often forgotten in the garden and yet it is one of the most evocative senses, and sweet perfumes drifting through the air are such a pleasure to experience. The Fragrant Tea Olive is an evergreen shrub that will fill your garden with the most exquisite perfume every fall and often again in spring. Planted near a window or terrace you will be captivated by this plant.
It forms an attractive, evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 12 or 15 feet tall and about 8 feet across. In time it will grow taller, turning into a small tree with several trunks. It can be grown from North Carolina throughout the South to Texas and throughout the coastal Western states in most kinds of soil and has few needs. It will grow in most soils, take full-sun or partial-shade and it has no pests or diseases. It makes a great specimen shrub or it can be grown as a screen and even as an informal hedge without any pruning being needed.
Growing Fragrant Tea Olive Trees
The Fragrant Tea Olive (Osmanthus fragrans) originated in China and Japan and is the most prized member of a group of shrubs variously called Tea Olives, Osmanthus, or False Holly. It is an evergreen shrub that can reach 20 or even 30 feet in height under ideal conditions, but is usually considerably smaller, at around 10 to 15 feet in height and perhaps 6 to 8 feet across. Older trees may be as wide as they are tall and develop a vase shape with several trunks and foliage retained low down on the plant. The leaves are 3 to 5 inches long, with small teeth on the edges, so that they resemble holly a little. This plant is easily distinguished from holly because the leaves are in pairs opposite each other on the stems, not alternating as they are in holly.
The flowers appear in fall and are white or pale-yellow in color. Individually they are small, but because they are in clusters the plant is quite showy in flower. It is not for the visual beauty of its flowers, however, that this plant is so prized, but for its intense fragrance, that will fill the garden with the delicious scent of ripe peaches and apricots. Its scent has also been described as a combination of gardenia and jasmine. This is the most intensely-scented of all the Tea Olives and its fragrance is a true delight. In China and Japan it is highly prized and is used to flavor teas, jams, cakes and liquors. The flowers are followed by small and attractive if inconspicuous blue-black berry clusters which persist for some months.
The Fragrant Tea Olive is normally considered fully hardy in zone 9, but its hardiness is a little more complex than that. Although it can be damaged by a rapid drop in temperature to 200F, it is also hardy all the way to 00F in areas where cooling is gradually and the plants have a chance to adapt. So if you live in zone 8 and also in the warmer parts of zone 7, you will be successful with this plant in most normal winters. In colder areas flowering may be split by winter and flowers will appear in fall for a time, then stop and resume in the early spring with the first warmer days. So flowering can be more or less continuous from October to March, perfuming your garden for half the year.
Sun Exposure and Soil Conditions
The Fragrant Tea Olive is tolerant of a wide range of sun and shade. Its growth will be most dense in full-sun, but it will happily grow in light and even moderate shade too. It will also grow in all kinds of soil, from clay to sand, as long as it is well-drained. It prefers a steady supply of water, but it is moderately drought-resistant once established. It is free of pests and diseases, so little attention is needed, making this truly a low-maintenance, self-sufficient plant.
Care and Maintenance
During the first growing season water your plant once a week, or even more on sandy soil during hot weather. Once established it should be watered regularly but it will tolerate dry periods quite well. Little or no pruning is required for the Fragrant Tea Olive as it will naturally develop into a rounded shape. It can be trimmed if required and this is best done shortly after flowering has finished. Mulch over the roots and be careful with grass-trimmers and garden tools as the bark is thin and easily damaged.
Buying Fragrant Tea Olive Trees
Over time the most attractive, compact and free-flowering forms of the Fragrant Tea Olive have been selected and to preserve these ideal properties the plant must be produced correctly. Our plants are produced from stem pieces of the best-looking plants, so avoid cheaper seedling plants which will be variable and may lack all this plant’s ideal qualities. All of the Fragrant Tea Olives that we have to offer are true to the original form of this plant and will be ideally suited for your needs. However, we are constantly renewing our stock to ensure our customers get fresh, healthy plants, so supplies of this tree may be limited.